Istanbul: Cruise Calls Scheduled Again

Iconic sights in Istanbul, Turkey

In 2015 Istanbul saw some 300 calls and 600,000 cruise guests. Most Black Sea itineraries used the port for turnaround operations with a well-linked international airport nearby.

Geopolitical issues sent traffic into a nosedive, with cruise calls falling off dramatically, with just 42 calls in 2016.

“It killed the port,” said Figen Ayan, vice president of cruise operations. “The traffic dropped to zero calls for 2017 and this year.”

But things are slowly coming back for 2019, she said.

The cruise port in Istanbul was privatized in 2014 and now falls under the Global Ports Holding banner.

Among scheduled calls for 2019 are the Seven Seas Voyager, and the Celestial Crystal, which has October and November berth bookings.

Coming by cruise ship to Istanbul is a journey in itself, as passengers enjoy an amazing view sailing into the harbour with world-famous monuments such as the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

“In Istanbul, there’s so much to offer already in the city – even if guests don’t go out beyond the old city. Most of the shore excursions stay downtown for city tours and highlights visits,” said Ayan.

At the port, a massive investment program is underway to upgrade the waterfront area, including a new cruise terminal set to be ready by 2020.

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Cruise companies reducing Mediterranean presence

Ongoing instability in the Mediterranean region is prompting cruise companies to trim capacity there, with the latest example coming from Celebrity Cruises, for summer 2017.

Celebrity said it will keep the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Equinox in Miami next spring after it completes its winter cruise schedule, instead of returning to the Mediterranean, where this summer it will operate cruises out of Athens and Barcelona.

The move will draw down Celebrity’s Europe deployment next summer from five ships to four and give it a year-round ship in the Caribbean for the first time since 2010.

Other companies also plan to move capacity out of the Mediterranean and into the Caribbean.

Carnival Corp. in a June 28 conference call said it expected a 10% capacity reduction in the Mediterranean region next year, and a 5% increase in Caribbean capacity.

“We are rebalancing our portfolio to optimize the current demand environment,” Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald said.

The moves come as the Mediterranean was again rocked, this time by a failed coup attempt in Turkey and the truck massacre in Nice, the third major terrorist attack in France in the past nine months.

Cruise lines had already largely stopped calling in Istanbul after a series of terrorist attacks there this year. After the coup, many cruise lines also suspended calls elsewhere in Turkey, such as Kusadasi.

Most are in a wait-and-see mode, such as Carnival Cruise Line, which replaced the Carnival Vista’s calls in Kusadasi on July 17 and 20 with sea days and said it will evaluate future calls there “in the coming days.”

Some travel agents said client demand for Europe remains healthy.

“For us, our European business is still very strong,” said Jeffrey Bateman, vice president of operations at Crown Cruise Vacations in Princeton, N.J.

Bateman said most of his clients on Equinox cruises that had been scheduled for Europe next summer had rebooked other Celebrity European cruises.

Prices have been softening for Europe, according to a survey by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Patrick Scholes, who said advertised prices for cruises in southern Europe in June fell 1.3% year over year, compared to a 7.4% increase in May.

Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, said cruise lines remain reluctant to drop Europe in the summer.

“Analysts ask me, why don’t you put the ship in the Caribbean in the summer instead?” he said. “Well, because even a bad year in Europe is better than a good year in the Caribbean, especially in the summer.”

In 2014, a mass migration of ships from Europe to the Caribbean led to a pricing bloodbath. Donald said that’s unlikely in 2017, when Carnival’s expected Caribbean capacity growth will be 5%. In 2014, it was 20%.

The Equinox will add to the overall capacity in the Caribbean, but several travel agents liked having more itinerary options for Celebrity in the summer.

“I view the year-round vessels in the Caribbean as a plus,” said Valerie Harris, a CruiseOne franchisee in Atlanta. “They lend a hand with creating and maintaining a cruise line’s presence in the region, which in turn may establish brand loyalty.”

MSC Cruises the latest line to drop Turkey port calls

MSC Cruises said that it is substituting calls in Greece for planned stops in Istanbul and Izmir on its cruises this spring and summer because of “growing concerns by guests as a result of the recent tragic events in Istanbul.”

The decision impacts the MSC Magnifica, which will be based in Venice starting March 26 and was scheduled to call in Turkey beginning March 29.

Those calls will be replaced by calls in Athens and Mykonos. MSC said calls to Turkey are suspended “until further notice.”

Previously, Crystal Cruises announced it would forgo stops in Turkey on two of its cruises this spring.

The moves follow a Jan. 12, a suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed 10 people, mostly German tourists.

Last summer, after an attack on the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Celebrity and Costa canceled calls in Turkey.